CAST: Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ethan Suplee, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Bill Burr, Nicole LaLiberté, Luke Forbes, Ronnie Gene Blevins
RUNNING TIME: 90 mins
BASICALLY…: A US Army Ranger (Tatum) must transport a rambunctious Belgian Malinois military working dog to his best friend and handler’s funeral…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Channing Tatum picked an opportune time to take a break from the silver screen; in the years since he last headlined a live-action movie with Steven Soderbergh’s 2017 heist caper Logan Lucky, the Hollywood hotshot has experienced a number of setbacks, both professional (such as the cancellation of his long-mooted Gambit movie) and personal (namely his wife Jenna Dewan filing for divorce in 2018). It’s a break that Tatum has taken into major consideration with his return to starring roles in Dog, which he also co-directs (in his directorial debut) alongside regular producer Reid Carolin – and you can definitely tell that this was a film made by someone going through some rough patches in their life, because it’s way more personal than the advertising may suggest.
Tatum stars as Jackson Briggs, a former Army Ranger who’s been dismissed following a brain injury on the battlefield, although he is eager to sign back up at the earliest opportunity. He soon learns that one of his fellow soldiers has been killed in combat, and that his funeral is scheduled to take place in his Arizona home town in a matter of days; Briggs sees an opportunity, however, when he is assigned to transport his fallen comrade’s military working dog, a Belgian Malinois named Lulu, across the country to the funeral, in exchange for permission to re-join his army corps. Unfortunately, Lulu is quite the handful, overcome with PTSD that has transformed her into a raging, dangerous attack dog, so much so that she is scheduled to be put down following the funeral, upon delivery by Briggs. So begins a good old-fashioned road trip between man and dog, where – as per road trip movie rules – they don’t get along at first, but after a series of escapades they start to form a genuine bond.
What stands out about co-director Tatum’s film is how surprisingly sincere it is; at no point do our mismatched travel buddies feel like they’re forced together through the magic of movie convenience, nor do the natural moments of growth between them feel contrived or overly saccharine. There is a real underlying sense of dread on this journey, not just because the ferocious canine is due to be euthanised, but also because Tatum’s Briggs character is already on this dark and destructive path, centred around wanting to return to the very place that seriously messed him up psychologically. As both spend more time together, you feel this overwhelming rawness in the performances, with not just Tatum but also the very well-trained canine actor giving a pair of strong turns that highlight their sweet chemistry, and their ability to make you root for them even when not doing the most sensible things (such as pretending to be blind to get a nice hotel room, or attacking a Muslim person in broad daylight, all incidentally in the same scene). It could have been easy for Tatum to perform and direct like it’s a cross-country remake of Turner and Hooch, but there is clearly a lot more going on in the mind for this to actually have a strong, moral heart and a real sense of urgency that a lot of recent dog-centric movies have sorely lacked – needless to say, this is way better than Show Dogs.
Tatum and co-director Reid Carolin (the latter of whom also writes the screenplay) also incorporate this sweet central relationship into an entertaining road trip movie, which certainly sticks to a number of conventions, but still isn’t afraid to get real with them, or even seriously strange. There is a whole section of this movie that briefly turns into a horror movie, which begins when the characters unwittingly stumble upon a hidden marijuana farm, and are suddenly taken hostage by its owner Kevin Nash; of course, it doesn’t completely go that route, but there is enough to suggest that, had things gone a completely different way, there is a completely different movie happening adjacently alongside this one. Importantly, sequences like this as well as some of the more outlandishly comedic segments of the film (a bizarre threesome attempt, and aforementioned hotel shenanigans among them) don’t completely betray the overall tone, or take over to a point where the original intention is no longer recognisable; most of them are in service of the central narrative, as well as the core relationship between these two characters, and so they neatly fit together better than they seriously have any right to.
Don’t go in expecting a completely straightforward man-and-dog pairing, for Dog is certainly not Turner and Hooch or K-9; it is much more of a heartfelt, sincere and surprisingly meaningful story about trauma, sacrifice, and learning to be the strongest of one’s kind, all in the guise of a sweet and endearing road trip comedy-drama.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Dog is a nice surprise of a man/canine road trip movie, with star and co-director Channing Tatum putting a lot of his own personal soul into his performance and filmmaking, which gives the potentially corny narrative a truly raw and emotional meaning, as well as a mature sense of heart.